US Conservatives and anti-social justice warriors are pushing a false narrative about hate crime hoaxes to distract us from the alarming reality

The Hate Hoax

The hashtag #HateHoax was trending on Sunday after Erica Thomas, Democratic Georgia State Representative and Minority Leader, seemed to backtrack on parts of a story she told a few days before about a man who verbally assaulted her and told her to “go back to where you came from”.

After detailing the incident in a Facebook Live video and writing about it on Twitter, Thomas told reporters that she was not certain about the exact phrasing the man used when he berated her in a grocery store. However, the man admitted to “using profanity to insult Thomas” according to USA Today. Specifically, he said he “degraded and berated” the African American law-maker and called her a “lazy bitch”.

Based on the available evidence, it does not appear that the incident played out as Thomas initially described it. At the same time, no one is disputing that something did happen – something pretty awful that got overlooked because of the inconsistencies in Thomas’ story. 

Before long, the hashtag #HateHoax started trending in response to a tweet by Andy Ngo, an activist-turned-apologist for the far-right who has found success whipping up hysteria over random outbursts of anything that can be contrived as left-wing violence and spinning anecdotal incidents of hate crimes “hoaxes” into an epidemic of fakery. 

After Ngo got punched in the face at a rally in June, his lawyer asserted on Twitter that anti-fascists had assaulted him with cement milkshakes – a claim for which no evidence exists. The lawyer has since deleted the tweet, but Ngo did not highlight that incident as a “hate hoax”.

“I now feel comfortable calling this a #HateHoax,” Ngo tweeted early on Sunday morning, after Thomas walked back some of her original statement. “Past 24 hours is a good case study into how the MSM [mainstream media] machine & social media work together to amplify unconfirmed & outlandish narratives of American racism.”

But, Ngo’s exaggerated depiction is no closer to the truth than the story he’s calling a hoax.

Thomas’ initial account went viral in large part because it came in the midst of Trump’s ongoing racist attacks against four freshman congresswomen of colour, which started last weekend when he tweeted that they should “go back” and fix the countries they come from before calling for change in the US. Three of the four congresswomen were born in America, while the fourth, Ilhan Omar, is a Somali-born American citizen. Trump renewed the attack just days later when he singled out Omar at his rally in North Carolina, prompting the crowd to start chanting “send her back”.    

In five states (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming), there are still no hate crime laws on the books at all.

There’s nothing “outlandish” about portraying this incident as racist. It is racist – and not because the “MSM machine and social media” have said so. 

What’s truly outlandish is that Ngo, along with many others, chose to amplify an anecdote to fit his “hate hoax” narrative in an effort to obscure the vast body of evidence showing that hate crimes are, indeed, on the rise in the US.

Hate Crimes in the Era of Trump 

According to a 2017 study of annual hate crime statistics, the number of hate crimes reported by law enforcement agencies spiked during Trump’s 2016 campaign, with the largest increases seen in major cities like Washington DC, which experienced a 62% rise from the year before. 

While hate crimes have increased during previous election years, 2016 was marked by “a clear and dramatic spike for the election period that was unlike anything I can recall in my professional career,” said the study’s author, Brian Levin, of the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Levin said that numerous factors likely contributed to the rise in hate crimes, “particularly sharp and widespread bigotry against particular communities like transgendered and Muslims” and the “emboldenment and mainstreaming of white nationalism”.

In a previous analysis, Levin and his colleagues documented a sharp rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes after Trump proposed his Muslim ban in December 2015.

Things have only gotten worse since Trump took office. Annual statistics produced by the FBI show that hate crimes increased 17% in 2017, with particularly sharp increases in anti-Hispanic and anti-Semitic incidents. Anti-Muslim violence also rose dramatically after Trump’s election. Meanwhile, the number of hate groups in the US is on the rise, reaching a 20-year high in 2018.

Recent data suggest that these alarming trends are continuing to this day.

The New York City Police Department said in June that it had recorded 184 hate crimes since January, marking a 64% increase over the same time period the year before. Of the 184 incidents, 110 targeted Jews – up from 58 incidents in 2018. The spike in hate crimes took place at a time when overall crime in New York City dropped by 6%. 

Where Trump Goes, Hate Crimes Follow

Evidence strongly suggests that the rise in hate crimes coinciding with Trump’s presidency is no coincidence. Where Trump goes, hate crimes follow – literally.

According to a March 2019 analysis, US counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally in 2016 saw a 226% increase in hate crimes in subsequent months compared to counties that did not host a rally. A similar study documented an increase in assaults on days and in cities where Trump held campaign rallies, but found no such increase in the same cities when they hosted Hillary Clinton rallies.

Other recent research indicates that exposure to Trump’s prejudiced statements (through reading or hearing them) makes people more likely to write offensive comments about the groups he targets. 

Another study took things a step further, concluding that “it was not just Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric throughout the political campaign that caused hate crimes to increase”. Rather, the authors wrote, “it was Trump’s subsequent election as President of the United States that validated this rhetoric in the eyes of perpetrators and fuelled the hate crime surge”.

Several high-profile violent crimes appear to confirm these findings. 

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, Robert Bowers, who murdered 11 Jews in an October 2018 rampage, was motivated in part by Trump’s fear-mongering, conspiratorial rhetoric about “migrant caravans”. 

Cesar Sayoc, the man accused of sending pipe bombs to Trump’s perceived enemies, appears to have been radicalised at Trump’s rallies. 

And, at a November 2018 hearing for three members of a Kansas militia group who were convicted of an anti-Muslim hate crime, defence lawyers argued in a sentencing memorandum that the men should be granted leniency because their violence was incited by Trump’ incendiary campaign rhetoric.

They said: “The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our President… As long as the executive branch condemns Islam and commends and encourages violence against would-be enemies, then a sentence imposed by the judicial branch does little to deter people generally from engaging in such conduct if they believe they are protecting their countries from enemies identified by their own commander-in-chief”.

A Fabricated Epidemic of Hate Crime Hoaxes

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence showing a dramatic rise in hate crimes in recent years, many conservatives still insist that hate hoaxes are the real problem.

In reality, false hate crimes are quite rare. Out of an estimated 21,000 hate crimes reported between 2016 and 2018, fewer than 50 were found to be false, according to the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. 

Quillette, the publication for which Andy Ngo writes, has published a number of pieces on the subject, blaming a “culture of victimhood” for the supposed epidemic of hate crime hoaxes. The articles are filed under a tag labelled ‘Grievance Industry‘.

But, what these articles fail to mention is that hate crimes are far more likely to be under-reported or not reported at all than to be falsely reported. 

An estimated one in six law enforcement agencies nationwide didn’t file a single hate crime report from 2009 to 2015 and, in some states, a majority of agencies failed to file a single report. At least one state, Hawaii, doesn’t even participate in the national hate crimes reporting programme. In 2017, more than 90 cities with populations exceeding 100,000 people either did not report any hate crime data to the FBI or reported zero hate crimes.

As a result, many hate crimes are never even counted in national statistics. 

Perhaps the most striking example comes from the Charlottesville, Virginia, Police Department, which reported no hate crimes between July 2017 and September 2017 – meaning that the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist is missing from federal hate crimes statistics. Also missing from the official statistics are the 35 people who were injured when James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville.

Even in states that do report hate crime data, major categories of hate-based incidents are often still not included. For example, in 20 states, attacks against LGBTQ Americans are still not considered hate crimes and, in five states (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming), there are still no hate crime laws on the books at all.

Democrats in both the House and the Senate introduced legislation to improve reporting practices, but not a single Republican would sign on. 

It’s almost – almost – as if some Republicans don’t want to see a more accurate accounting of hate crimes because they don’t want to have to face the consequences of the rhetoric coming from within their own party. 


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